Thank you for convening this meeting today. I would also like to thank the Secretary-General for his briefing and for his leadership in working to find enduring solutions to increasingly complex problems.
It is fitting that Kazakhstan has called this important meeting. One of Kazakhstan’s earliest decisions as an independent nation remains one of the most important moments in the history of nonproliferation. After the fall of the Soviet Union, Kazakhstan voluntarily removed Soviet nuclear weapons from its territory and joined the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty. By rejecting nuclear weapons, President Nazarbayev set an example for the rest of the world. This action built confidence. It showed Kazakhstan’s neighbors, and the world, that they were not a threat. It was a vote of confidence in the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, which remains the cornerstone of the global nuclear nonproliferation effort. And, critically, Kazakhstan’s action demonstrated that it valued peace and stability in its relations with other countries. It was an unmistakable, concrete expression of Kazakhstan’s willingness and readiness to be a responsible member of the community of nations.
The United States continues to lead in efforts to stop the spread of nuclear weapons. We play a leading role ensuring the full implementation of UN Security Council Resolution 1540, a landmark agreement that this Council unanimously adopted in 2004. Together with our partners, we are working to assist states and international organizations in their efforts to prevent non-state actors from developing and acquiring nuclear, chemical, or biological weapons and their delivery systems.
But the reality is that today’s security environment is more challenging than in the past. An essential element of further nuclear disarmament is successfully addressing these fundamental security challenges. The regimes that most threaten the world today with weapons of mass destruction are also the source of different kinds of security challenges. They deny human rights and fundamental freedoms to their people. They promote regional instability. They aid terrorists and militant groups. They promote conflict that eventually spills over its borders.
There is no greater threat to the international nuclear nonproliferation regime than that posed by North Korea. North Korea continues its reckless pursuit of nuclear weapons in defiance of repeated resolutions by this Council. It continues to pursue nuclear weapons while its people starve and to threaten other nations while intimidating its own citizens. The example that Kazakhstan set, and the efforts of so many others to curb the spread of nuclear weapons, will begin to unravel if this Council cannot rise to the challenge. We call on all Member States to fulfill their obligations and fully implement all UN Security Council resolutions on North Korea. We will continue to work with our partners on the Security Council in pursuit of a peaceful, diplomatic solution to this crisis. But let me say it one more time: The United States remains fully committed to defending itself and its allies if necessary.
The actions of the Iranian regime are another example. The regime in Tehran is the leading cause of instability in an unstable part of the world. It supports terrorists, proxy militants, and murderers like Bashar al Assad. It provides ballistic missiles in violation of UN arms embargoes. Its proxies launch them at civilian targets, as we saw when Houthi militias in Yemen fired an Iranian-supplied missile at an airport in Riyadh. And when the Iranian people protest their money being diverted to terrorists, the regime arrests them and kills them. It silences their voices and lies about their motivations. When the Council passed Resolution 2231, it endorsed the nuclear agreement and it retained its series of prohibitions on Iran’s behavior. The Iranian regime has repeatedly violated these prohibitions. And in doing so, it has repeatedly shown itself to be unworthy of our trust and our confidence.
And so when this Council considers the question of how we can promote confidence that states won’t engage in the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, the place we must start – and the very minimum we can do – is to insist that states comply with their existing international obligations. In the case of Iran, while the United States continues to uphold its commitments under the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, the international community must also demand that Iran fulfill its obligations under Resolution 2231. We imposed these obligations as a Security Council. Together, we must respond to Iran’s dangerous violations, not because we want the nuclear agreement to fail, but because we want the cause of nonproliferation to succeed. We must not forget that weapons of mass destruction are not just an abstract threat, but weapons that evil regimes will put to use.
The Syrian regime has repeatedly used chemical weapons against its own people. These are the actions of a government so corrupt that it stands with ISIS as the only entities to use chemical weapons as tools of warfare in the 21st century. The Security Council must respond to this outrageous violation of international law and basic human decency. This Council created the Joint Investigative Mechanism, or JIM, for the express purpose of exposing the violators of these crimes. The JIM determined that the Assad regime and ISIS used chemical weapons in Syria. Both must be held accountable for their actions. But one nation stands in the way of the Security Council fulfilling its duty. That nation is Russia. It was Russia that vetoed three Council resolutions that would have renewed the Joint Investigative Mechanism. It is Russia that has gone to great lengths at the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons in the Hague to prevent the Assad regime from being held accountable for its actions. If the Russian government is serious about nonproliferation of weapons of mass destruction, it will convince its client Assad that he must eliminate his chemical weapons and cooperate fully with the OPCW and the United Nations.
The Security Council tackles some of the greatest challenges to international peace and security daily; none are greater than the proliferation of nuclear, biological, and chemical weapons. The United States works hard to ensure the nonproliferation of these deadly weapons. We encourage the creation of a security environment that benefits nonproliferation. And we believe all nations have a moral responsibility to join in the creation of such an environment.